Jimmy Connors has won as many as 109 titles in his terrific career. Next on the list is the incomparable Roger Federer who by winning the 2018 Swiss indoors ATP 500 tournament (popularly called Basel) with a win over Romanian Marius Copil won the 99th tournament of his career.
Lets take a brief look at the difficult road Roger had to traverse to reach the 99th.
Roger started 2018 superbly by winning the Australian Open. He then won Rotterdam ATP 500 which was his 20th ATP 500 title. However his high level of play thereafter dipped. He lost the Indian Wells Masters to DelPo despite having three match points on his own serve before losing to Thanasi Kokkinasis at Miami.
Roger rallied to win the Stuttgart Open 2018 which was his 98th tournament win. After that he was finding it difficult to add to his impressive tally. More worryingly he was missing winning opportunities, which was most unlike the great champion. At Halle he lost to Borna Coric which was surprising considering Roger was on a 20 match winning streak on grass which was not Coric’s favorite surface and he had won Halle 9 times earlier. At Wimbledon he lost to the giant South African Kevin Anderson in the quarter finals, after squandering a match point. Once again, unlike the Roger we know.
At Cincinnati, Roger was outclassed by Novak, and at US Open , he surprisingly lost to the unheralded Aussie John Millman. He had only 49% of his 1st serves in that match and it is considered one of his worst serving matches of his illustrious career. At the Shanghai Masters, he had the chance to meet Novak in the final but was comprehensively defeated by Borna Coric in straight sets in the semi finals.
At this juncture, Basel appeared like a breath of fresh air for Roger Federer. After all it was his happy and favorite hunting ground. He had won the tournament 8 times and entered the finals as many as 13 times. The tournament is indoors, and on hard courts, conditions which Roger thrives in.
Yet at Basel too, Roger struggled. His 1st win was against the Serbian Felp Krajinovic who had only a solitary top ten win in his career, versus Novak, but where after 1 set Novak had retired. Roger struggled to a 3 set win 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in 2 hours 9 minutes. The next match was against Jan Lennard Struff, who by defeating Millman prevented a possible Roger-Millman re-match. It was the 3rd meeting between the two and Roger had defeated the German in straight sets at both Australian Open and Wimbledon. At Basel too Roger prevailed after being a break down in the 1st set to win 6-3 7-5 to advance to the quarter-finals.
Gilles Simon was the QF opponent, a player who has promised so much in career but delivered so little, considering his talent. The former world number 6 who has won 14 titles once again promised but failed. It was an error ridden match though for Roger who had 1st service of just 59% and was broken as many as 5 times in his 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 win. The only thing Roger did well in the match was to play a perfect tie-break to win it 7-1 and get the crucial break at 5-4 in the 3rd set. Yet, the most passionate Roger fan would accept that it was a tough match against Simon, and one which could have gone horribly wrong.
In the semi-finals finally Roger produced a terrific display to win an easy 6-1 6-4 match against the 20th ranked Andrei Medvedev. However here too quite unlike Roger even after a commanding display he dropped serve at love and won only on his 4th match point. It was expected that he would play against Sascha Zverev but from nowhere the hard serving Marius Copil who had upset Cilic earlier defeated Sascha too to enter the final against the 14th time finalist. This incidentally at 14 Finals is a record for any tournament.
Roger’s final opponent has an interesting record- the fastest serve ever at any Grand Slam tournament, a humongous 242 km serve at the 2015 Australian Open. However, that was his only 2nd round appearance at any Grand Slam and that certainly is not enough credentials to threaten and defeat one of the greatest players who ever played the sport. Yet, Roger was broken in both sets and it looked likely that he would drop a set as well, especially when he was down 1-4 in the second set. However, his greater experience prevailed and he won 7-6, 6-4.
For Roger, Basel is the 2nd tournament where he has won 9 titles, the other being the Gerry Weber open (Halle). It was his 4th consecutive title win here and this was his 12th consecutive final at the event. His 5 losses here have been to DelPo( twice), Novak, Tim Henman and to Thomas Enquist. His 9 titles here have been won against Fernando Gonzalez, Jarko Nieminen, David Nalbandian, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori, David Goffin, Rafa Nadal, DelPo and now Copil. Incredibly, the 9 wins have been against 9 different opponents.
What next for Roger Federer. He is serving well, despite one or two off days. He is moving well, volleying well, and both backhand and forehand are functioning well. However one area of the game has gone down considerably and that is ability to stay and win long rallies. In most matches recently he is losing well above 65-70% of rallies extending above 6-8 shots. That would be a huge disadvantage against tougher opposition and especially against Rafa and Novak. Now, since he is losing longer rallies, he is trying to keep the rallies short, by taking extra risks and that could be the reason for his dropping games on serve even against unheralded players.
This aspect Roger would definitely be looking at to improve while looking for his 100th and possibly even more tournament wins. As of now it is time to celebrate the 99th win, in itself a feat of marvel, endurance and tenacity.
Congratulations Roger Federer.
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films and music.
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